Long Island Violin Shop Donates Instruments to Haitian Children
Strings reader and members of the violin trade open their hearts to rebuild Haitian quake-ravaged music school
After the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, Strings shared the story of Haitian violinist and educator Romel Joseph, who endured 18 hours trapped beneath the rubble of his fallen Port-au-Prince music school by playing through violin concertos in his mind. However, once rescued from the wreckage, and after a stay in a Miami hospital, Joseph was confronted with the damage the quake had wreaked on the New Victorian School, the music institute he founded in 1991 to serve the children of this island nation.
The quake nearly destroyed the older of the school’s two buildings and completely decimated the newer one, along with all of the students’ stringed instruments. From the Miami hospital, where he was airlifted for treatment, Joseph was determined to rebuild the school. So he issued a call for donations of money and supplies. “He needs instruments, bows, strings, rosin, music books, notebooks, computers, and cash to provide for the music and English-language programs,”Strings reported in the April 2010 issue.
This summer, some 1,500 miles from Port-au-Prince, that call was answered.
When Strings reader Robert W. Murphy, now in his fourth year of vocal performance studies at the Manhattan School of Music, read about Joseph’s plight, he felt an immediate connection to the musician and his young students. “I pictured a similar situation, being a music student, how devastating that must have been,” Murphy says. “Loving music and having that taken away from you must have been absolutely horrible.”
Murphy didn’t just have the desire to help—he had access to a treasure trove of stringed instruments by way of his father, Bob Murphy, the owner of Murphy’s Music and Violin Shop in Melville, Long Island.
“We have a lot of instruments that were not being used and were there for years,” Murphy says, “great student instruments that were not what my dad needed. They’re not doing anyone any good sitting in stock there.”
And so Murphy pitched the idea to his father. “I said, maybe we can scrape up some violins and get the orchestra re-outfitted.”
The elder Murphy agreed, contributing an orchestra’s worth of violins, violas, cellos, and basses. He also took the project one step further, seeking donations of other supplies from colleagues in the music business.
For bows, he reached out to his old friend Andrew Glasser of Glasser Bows. “I called [Glasser] and said, ‘I’m going to donate 42 instruments—feel free to give me a discount on the bows,’” Murphy recalls. “And he says, ‘I will feel free.’ And he donates them all.”
The Super-Sensitive Musical String Company provided strings, and local shops came forward with music stands, chin rests, and sheet music.
Joseph was still in the hospital when he found out about the Murphys’ donation. “I was amazed, grateful, and in awe,”
Joseph writes in an e-mail from Port-au-Prince, where he has returned to get ready for the start of the school year. “Mr. Murphy’s donation of instruments will make it possible for many of our students to start playing once again. More than ever, the children of Haiti need to play a musical instrument, which can be a soothing factor for their damaged emotions.”
Though the school opened in an off-site location in May, the costs of demolition and debris removal, along with inflated prices for building materials have made the process of rebuilding the New Victorian slower than Joseph would have liked. Donations, including $1,000 raised at a July benefit concert organized by Robert W. Murphy, have helped, but there is still much to be done.
Problems with storage space at the school’s temporary headquarters have delayed shipment of the 42 instruments to Haiti and sparked fears that the shipment will not make it safely to the school. “Nothing about Haiti is easy or simple, or logical, or even reasonable,” says Joseph, referring to the customs delays that have stymied other charitable donations to the Caribbean nation.
Still, Joseph is optimistic about the fate of the New Victorian. “We will have to make it work,” he says. “The children need to start having a sense of stability in their lives.”
And so he is moving forward with plans for the fall and winter, organizing a Christmas concert series that will feature guest musicians from his Miami-based foundation the Walenstein Musical Organization.
He has invited the Murphy family to attend as special guests.
“We’re all music lovers,” says Robert W. Murphy, who hopes to perform with the Haitian students in December. “We all share a passion for a common art form. To be able to enable them to explore their passion again is a great thing.”